I received my patriarchal blessing when I was getting ready to head to college and at a crossroads. I was always a good-hearted kid. I cared about other people, although I was super competitive and had a temper that could compromise that disposition. At times, admittedly, I was more concerned with being cool than being kind. I went to seminary each day, church each week, and home teaching with my dad each month. But I cared more about being an all-state basketball player than being an all-stake priesthood servant. I had a serious girlfriend, with the serious issues those early relationships bring, and was way too serious about playing college sports. There was a pull, however, to serve a mission. I needed divine direction before I left home. I needed to figure out who I was.
I remember going to the patriarch’s small, one-level house, all by myself. The room was shadowed by his east-facing home, orange ’70s curtains letting some colored light spill through and bathe everything in an amber hue. A clock ticked quietly in the background. My six-foot-three frame felt the low ceilings too close. I sat on the couch, patiently, sensing importance even in my inexperience. The patriarch didn’t talk to me much before he blessed me. I had never met him before. He pulled over a hard, brown chair from the kitchen and asked me to sit in it. He laid his old, wrinkled hands on my head, and spoke my name. “Anthony Ross Sweat …” he said in a commanding voice, and then he began to speak things about Anthony Ross Sweat that I had never conceived. I felt power. It flowed from his mouth through his hands into my mind and lodged in my heart, returning out my eyes. I tried to hold them back, but tears came. I let them spill, unaccustomed to such spiritual outpourings, wiping them hard with the back of my hand.
The patriarch spoke of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, premortal valiance and associations, mortal missions and work, and eternal promises and potentials. It was as if, for a moment, the veil lifted for this random teenage boy, and I caught a glimpse of who I really was. I wasn’t Anthony Sweat, Tony, or T-bone. I wasn’t even the future professor, painter, or author. I was without beginning or end, a spirit child of God with a long premortal history and existence, a mortal who is here with covenant purpose and commitment, and one who has a future eternal identity, destiny, and exaltation if I am true to those covenants. The blessing closed, and heaven with it. I shook his hand, grabbed the brass doorknob, and got into my car. Mortality took forefront again as I signaled right and drove back to my middle-class, west-side, Utah home. But for a moment, I had tasted eternity.
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Sometimes in the press of temporalities and telestial concerns, we become nearsighted. We see a day at a time, with its cares and calls, and it’s about all we can manage. To-do lists and deadlines overwhelm us. Bills bury us. Emails and texts ping us. Failures beset us. We try to drown them out. We turn up the beats. We binge the latest show on Netflix. We escape in sports. We recreate. We shop. We scroll and double tap. We eat. We try to fill the hole. The world, and others caught in its ways, try to define us by our clothes, our possessions, where we live, the size of our home, our titles, our accomplishments, our followers, our appearance. One day, however, the thief of mortality will steal all of that away, moths and rust will corrupt it completely, and we will see that it is all vanity. So, who are we, really? What is our purpose? What is our true identity?
When we approach the temple and enter that royal heavenly palace, we feel as though we cross a liminal threshold. We pass through the doors and the world closes behind. We take off our dress shoes, silence cell phones, and change into simple white clothing. We hold packets of neatly folded priestly robes that remind us of our real identity and potential. Folded in shirt pockets or pinned to dress sleeves we carry mortal names of people who have lived and died before us, knowing those names—as special as they are—aren’t really their true identity either. They lived before, and they continue to live on now. What were they or will they be called in heaven?
We wash and anoint, catching a glimpse of our divine identity and eternal potential. We are authorized to wear the garment to remind.1 We go into the endowment rooms. We sense eternity. Like Moses, we learn of the great plan of God—the Creation, the Fall, the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Visions flow. Truth floods. Awe overtakes. Work and glory come to pass. We make covenants, we spiritually progress, we learn holy patterns of living, we go from telestial, to terrestrial, to celestial. We learn sacred, symbolic knowledge that represents this progress.2 We are reminded that we are more than our mortal ages or accomplishments, careers or credentials, families or finances. We are to become priestesses and priests, queens and kings. We are to become modern Moseses and Melchizedeks, Sarahs and Rebekahs, Eves and Adams. And, with our vision expanded by ancient orders and eternal destinies, we learn about sacred names and potentials. …
In the endowment, we learn more deeply about God and Jesus, and therefore about ourselves (see John 7:17). In Joseph Smith’s last great discourse of his life, he taught:
Here then is eternal life, to know the only wise and true God. You have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves; to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done; by going from a small degree to another, from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you are able to sit in glory as doth those who sit enthroned in everlasting power. … When you climb a ladder, you must begin at the bottom and go on until you learn the last principle; it will be a great while before you have learned the last. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it is a great thing to learn salvation beyond the grave. … When we know how to come to [God], he begins to unfold the heavens to us and tell us all about it. … I tell you these words of eternal life, that are given to me, I know you taste it.3
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The temple helps us taste it. It helps us remember. It helps us see. President Russell M. Nelson taught that in the temple, “We learn of our eternal identity and purpose and the marvelous promises of the Lord.”4 The endowment helps us see beyond ourselves also, and fulfills the deep yearning to link our past, present, and future family5—connecting “roots and branches”6—the generations that came before and the ones that will come after. We see ourselves in the great chain of God’s children, forged by the power of the holy priesthood and its ordinances, welded with past dispensations, sealed up to God and others (see Doctrine and Covenants 128:18). It’s a beautiful vision.
1. “The initiatory ordinances include special blessings regarding your divine heritage and potential. As part of these ordinances, you will also be authorized to wear the sacred temple garment” (“About the Temple Endowment,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/temples/what-is-temple-endowment?lang=eng).
2. Ezra Taft Benson taught, “In the course of our visits to the temple, we are given insights into the meaning of the eternal journey of man. We see beautiful and impressive symbolisms of the most important events—past, present, and future—symbolizing man’s mission in relationship to God. We are reminded of our obligations as we make solemn covenants pertaining to obedience, consecration, sacrifice, and dedicated service to our Heavenly Father” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 251).
3. “Discourse, 7 April 1844, as Reported by Times and Seasons,” 613, The Joseph Smith Papers, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/discourse-7-april-1844-as-reported-by-times-and-seasons/2.
4. Teachings of Russell M. Nelson, 373.
5. President Russell M. Nelson taught, “We feel part of something greater than ourselves. Our inborn yearnings for family connections are fulfilled when we are linked to our ancestors through sacred ordinances of the temple” (“Generations Linked in Love,” Ensign, May 2010).
6. See Quentin L. Cook, “Roots and Branches,” Ensign, May 2014.